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Witnessing a Camel Sacrifice in Sudan

WARNING: Gruesome pics and story. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Sudan. But seeing a camel get its head cut off in a wildly violent camel sacrifice in front of my face was probably not near the top of the list, yet on day 2 that’s exactly what I saw.

I had almost finished my Cape Town to Cairo trip, through half the countries in Africa, and I was so excited to finally be in Sudan. I knew my next stop would finally be to check out the Pyramids of Sudan, before heading further north to spend 3 days in Cairo, Egypt. But before I could get my head around being in Sudan, I found myself in the middle of whirling dervishes, with a decapitated camel spurting blood over a crowd of people loudly cheering. Quite an introduction to travelling in Sudan!

Camel Sacrifice
Just before the Camel Sacrifice at a Sudanese Mosque

Arriving in Khartoum, & heading to the Mosque

I had arrived in Sudan the day before. Then we got the bus to Khartoum on a Friday (which is effectively the Islamic Sabbath). After arranging my hotel, a cool Sudanese guy approached me and told me that at Hamed el-Nabil Mosque, people would be “dancing to worship Allah” and that I should go along. Of course, I was game. But I didn’t want to offend anyone by infringing on their religion. So I asked a couple of sagely looking guys do they think it would be ok for me to go along.

Of course sir”, they insisted “Thank you for coming to Sudan. And thank you for your interest in our faith”. Amazing country, amazing people.

So I hopped in a rickshaw and off I went to Omdurman, in the north-west of the city. It apparently started around 3 pm. But when I got there I was told it didn’t get going until around 6 or 7. Being Sudan though, it’s almost impossible to be bored. So I choose one of the 10 offers of food and tea and sat down with a group of people.

When the time came I wondered into the Mosque with a local English teacher (who incidentally offered me a job teaching in his school!). There were about 2000 people who had come here to worship. Aside from 2 Italian pilots who lived there and worked for the World Food Program, there were no other tourists.

Camel Sacrifice
The Camel Sacrifice about to get going
Traveling in Sudan
Traveling in Sudan

Whirling Dervishes, Frankincense and Chanting

Everyone was hugely interested in my presence. One guy specifically approached me to discuss the benefits of international travel, the merits of Christianity working alongside Islam. His monologue finished with a big smile, a hearty handshake and a huge bearhug.

Anyway, the ceremony got underway. The crowd formed a circle outside the mosque, where a couple of men were dancing and shaking instruments in the middle. The crowd began to chant slowly and quietly. A few more people joined the men in the middle. And the crowd picked up the pace a little bit. Before I knew it, about 15 men were in the centre circle (turns out they were the Chiefs). The crowd began chanting and swaying rhythmically with more vigour.

This carried on while more guys marched in to join the Chiefs. They were carrying and burning frankincense which intensified the atmosphere further still. By this point the entire crowd we’re rocking back and forth in unison, closing in on the Chiefs. Whirling dervishes were running into the centre of the circle and spinning uncontrollably as they chanted in Arabic. People were being to become entranced and the whole place was reaching fever pitch. I was sweating just watching proceedings.

Camel Sacrifice, Sudan
Camel Sacrifice, Sudan

Introducing the Camel Sacrifice; the poor guy didn’t know what was coming

I looked around as I was snapping away on my camera. Out of nowhere, I saw a camel being brought into the affair. I found some guy with a smidgen of English, he informed me that I was very lucky because once a year they sacrificed a camel and that today was that day. On questioning, he revealed that one of the Chiefs would cut off the camel’s head in front of the crowd and then they would eat the meat.

To be entirely honest, I was pretty shocked. I don’t mind admitting that I wasn’t overly enamoured by the idea of watching a camel get decapitated before my eyes but then again this was a cultural experience I was unlikely to EVER see again. I’m a bloody vegetarian after all. But nothing was stopping these guys, so on they went.

Camels in Sudan
Preparing the camel
Dead Camels in Sudan
The Camel still alive, blood spurting

Cutting off the Camel’s Head

They brought the camel over, and (as human nature seems to dictate) a crowd immediately formed around the soon-to-be headless creature. A saw a guy put an apron on and unleash a ceremonial blade. The crowd cheered and the deed was close. They tied the camels head to his back leg so his jugular was facing forwards. The crowd were inching closer and closer as the ‘executioner’ (for the want of a better word) stepped toward the camel and, with a deep plunge, forced the blade through the throat and sawed back until the blade was free.

The dark red blood spurted out with an unbelievable force, covering a section of the crowd in its sticky resin. The camel was dead within 5 seconds and although that didn’t negate my horror entirely. I guess we should be thankful for small mercies. The camel may have been dead but 50% of his neck was still intact, so the executioner had to saw and hack and cut for a good 3 or 4 minutes until the head came free from the body. The puddle of blood by this stage was huge and people were standing in it without a care in the world.

The Camel Sacrifice in full flow
The Camel Sacrifice in full flow

Walking Away With The Camel’s Head

Someone walked in and picked the camel head and neck up. He walked over to a field a set it down there. The event was now finished with and, I guess the head no longer necessary for the ceremony. I walked over to see the damage that had been done. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the animal as it lay there with its tongue hanging out, no-one interested anymore.

The ceremony continued and the Chiefs gathered after the sacrifice and lifted some banners where they marched around the Mosque and then around the reformed circle of people. The whirling dervishes had been carrying on through the camel sacrifice, as had some of the chanters in the crowd so by the time I returned they were in a genuine trance. I’m struggling to articulate the intensity of the event. I can only hope that these words and pictures and give even the slightest insight into this powerful event.

Chanting, spinning, swinging, swaying. This continued for another 30 minutes or so until the chiefs called a temporary intermission. At that juncture, some people would go to the mosque and pray.  Others would take the opportunity to replenish some the energy they had expended through chai, water, kebabs etc.

I was exhausted so I nipped over to the corner shop, ordered and drunk 3 cokes in about 5 minutes. I needed the sugar badly. It was a struggle to get a grip on everything I had just seen. The Sudanese people I came across during my evening there were some of the warmest, friendliest, most open people I have ever met. So the last thing I wanted to do from this article was to portray them in a negative light.

Camels Head in Sudan
Camel Sacrifice Sudan
Camel Sacrifice Sudan
Camel Sacrifice Sudan

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23 thoughts on “Witnessing a Camel Sacrifice in Sudan

  1. Pingback: 在苏丹喀土穆的清真寺里见证骆驼的祭祀活动-数字游民指南
  2. Love your incredible stories. Super cool and surreal I’m sure. It really isn’t much different than people who hunt. In fact witnessing the mass slaughter of animals in an abattoir is far more gruesome. I know because I’ve worked in one. Why should our ways be considered ethical or civilized and other cultural ways not. Don’t understand why it’s so shocking to many.

  3. Wow… I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this before!
    A really interesting insight into how other cultures live!

  4. wow, this was an intense read, and some crazy pics. Its easy to label people savages when watching different cultures and the way they treat animals, but I am glad you have a level head about it. People who go to the supermarket for a steak and then post about this being cruel are total hypocrites. Also, those that ate the camel were probably more thankful and enjoyed the meat way more than the average spoiled customer at the keg haha.

  5. Dude, that is funny stuff. I am glad you got to see that. It is horrible yet fascinating at the same time.

    I saw something similar in Indonesia last year. My wife is now a vegetarian, by the way.

  6. Hi Johnny, i will be heading to Sudan this autumn and as a solo female traveller i am a bit nervous. (did backpacking elsewhere in Africa but still:) Did you meet any local freelance guides you can recommend? I usually like to hang out with locals, and any connection would be appreciated. Thanks. Nina

  7. It would be very awesome of our mind to decide a riad
    marrakech diana travel like this. The rain has reached a record of 178 mm, or around 7 inches, over 24 hours, fresh orange

  8. there was no problems to celebrate and sacrifice that only a part of cultural activities and this was no for Islams most people sacrifices to protect themselves from devils

  9. fuck islam fuck all thier habbits they are actual criminal they beheaded human and animal with no different fuck all of them fuck arab fuck fuck

      1. Why don’t they cut their own heads off and sacrifice themselves to worship some weird things?????? Poor Camel!!!! Who can stop them please!!!!!!!

        1. Wow! Everyone around the world slaughter animals. What about trophy hunting? Not saying I agree or disagree. I’m appalled at your response toward these people and their ways. You really shouldn’t judge what you don’t know.

  10. This is not sacrifice but brutal murder. Look at that camel…its crying! it knows what’s gonna happen next! But Muslims and their blood thirst… just inseparable, the most evil minds in this universe. I just don’t feel anything, when these people die in scores in blasts and attacks. They deserve it. It is the law of eternal justice..You will get what you deserve!

  11. I know that I will be viewed as a “closed mind” but I think I’m not, because according to me anyone can do whatever he will untill he doens’t hurt others. These things, called “cultural” are in any way less cultural than the Nazis doing their “cultural” genocide. Killing animals in this horrible way (fortunately this killing was quick, if you check “camel sacrifice out of control on youtube you’ll see something else shoking) is nothing more than savage to me. Yes, of course there are many “cultures” but the one called rationality is not just different but superior, given that it defends the rights of that camel too. I still cannot understand how men can stand these things without seeing the evil in that.

  12. Very interesting. It’s definitely a deeper look into Sudanese culture for those of us who have never been. I appreciate that you travel to different countries with an open mind and like you said neither “condone or condemn”.

  13. I’m a Sudanese and as far as I know what happened was not a sacrifice…What happens is that on the anniversary of the person whose tomb /mosque you visited many people come to visit and it is customary to feed the visitors so they slaughter a camel(chosen for the huge quantity of meat) to provide food for the visitors… Also note that the main method used for killing animals for food in most of northern Sudan is Slaughter. Electrocution and strangling are not used.

  14. It’s one thing to kill for food and survival, but another to glorify a killing of another for religious ceremony. I know this has been practiced to a horrible level in the past, with all cultures with humans as well as animals. Why must we pathetic humans be mired in the past? Oh well, this is the way the world is becoming. Moving backwards very rapidly. Yes, embrace diversity. And I thought we were becoming a more humane people worldwide. Guess not. How sad. What’s next? Killing virgin human females because it’s part of heritage and tradition? Or stoning to death a girl because she objected her elderly uncle raping her? I feel really lucky growing up in 20th century USA.

    1. Hey deb, thanks for commenting. Personally, i’m not there to judge – i’m in their country so i have to respect their values and culture. They were very warm with me, and welcomed me into their festival with open arms and for that I can only be thankful. I think getting out and seeing the world is the best way for us all to learn about acceptance, gratitude and to have an open mind.

    2. Mind you Deb, that in the US millions of animals are slaughtered in a worse way and they go suffering for a long time and even witness for hours how they kill other animals. Plus their lives in the industrial farms are horrific and are often abused.

      I am not defending this camel slaughter, but I just wanted to tell you how animals suffer everyday there. Pls. watch this video:

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